In 2016, you had a Western Bulldogs team soak up the extra week off prior to the finals, and then rampage through September to claim the flag.
It wasn't to be so this season.
The Greater Western Sydney Giants played a brand of football that completely stopped the seemingly irrepressible Bulldog style of play, with no easy possessions for the running Dogs at any point after the first 30 seconds.
When Matt Suckling hammered a goal home inside the first 30 seconds, you could have been forgiven for thinking the Bulldogs were on today. That piece of play was probably their best for the game. Talk about it all going downhill rapidly.
The Giants sent Matt de Boer to the Dogs’ match winner, Marcus Bontempelli, and what ensued was an enthralling battle between the two, but there were other huge wins for the Giants, with Heath Shaw and Phil Davis stifling the Bulldog forwards and the GWS mids working overtime to limit the influence of Josh Dunkley, whose second half of the season was as good as anyone in the league.
The Dogs will rue early season losses to Gold Coast (remember that?) and Carlton, which cost them the chance to have an easier run into the pointy end of the season. They put themselves in a position where they needed to win every game to a) make the finals, and b) win the flag.
But this season, it seems as though the week off didn’t work to their favour.
The Giants overwhelmed them with pressure and power. There were no easy touches and without their prime movers controlling the play, the rest of the team floundered. With an inside 50 count of 76-37, if anything, the score line flattered the Dogs.
The Giants were simply awesome.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
BONT GETS DE BOER-ED
You ever get the feeling of immense satisfaction? No, no, no…not as in the feeling Joe Ganino gets when he hangs out at home for a while and then has to clean himself up. I am talking more about the satisfaction of knowing you had a job to do and you did it to the best of your abilities. And it just so happens that the best of your abilities is the best anyone could do.
That’s how Matt de Boer must be feeling this evening as he recovers from one of the most comprehensive tagging jobs we’ve seen in recent finals. The Giants’ tagger laid waste to the AFL Coaches Association player of the year in no uncertain terms, restricting Marcus Bontempelli to just 13 disposals for the game.
Bont is a match winner, and whilst there are Dogs who get more of the footy, none of them have the impact Bont does when he gets up and going. Not only did he not get going… de Boer barely allowed him to get up.
Gifted a free kick in the first seconds of the game, it appeared as though the umpires would be all over de Boer to prevent him from giving Bont the business.
But oh… the business was given, and Matt de Boer was supreme in this duel.
The Dogs tried what they could to break the tag. They threw Bont into the ruck, and that worked for about 90 seconds before Shane Mumford decided he’d contest against Bont and de Boer would pick up where he’d left off after the stoppage. They sent Bont forward and that only seemed to remove the ignition they needed in the middle.
As de Boer continued to dismantle Bont, I got to wondering just where GWS would be placed had Ben Cunnington not dumped de Boer on his shoulder and injured him during the season. Could de Boer’s presence be so important to the Giants that they could be a top four team with him in the line up? Could his diligence and commitment have been the difference in some games. And could de Boer be the player that tips the scales in GWS’ favour in the finals?
It’s an intriguing prospect. We know Collingwood don’t do hard tags. Nor do Richmond, but how would those teams fare with de Boer taking a Pendlebury out of the game?
The success of de Boer on Bont sends a strong signal to the other remaining finalists – if you thought the first week of the finals was tough, wait til you meet up with the Giants in week two or three.
THE CONTESTED BEAST
I love writing about this bloke, simply because no one else does!
Jacob Hopper is the best young contested ball player in the league that you never hear about. I hate saying dumb things like this, as I reckon it devalues the Giants somewhat, but if he were playing for Carlton or Collingwood, commentators would be falling all over themselves to heap praise on him.
Maybe it’s time they started paying attention to the kid in orange and charcoal in the same way they do to Tim Kelly or Sam Walsh. His 26.7 touches per game has them both covered for disposals, and his 14.1 contested touches does the same in that category.
He was so hard at it today and set a tone early, cracking in and preventing the extractions that set the Dogs off and running. Teaming with Tim Taranto, they could the best one-two midfield punch under 23 years old in the league.
I wrote a column earlier this week for patrons detailing potential Gary Ayres medallists from each team, and Hopper was front and centre for the Giants. He is flying so far under the radar he has a gravel rash on his stomach. People had best start paying attention.
THE RUNNING MAN
I found it difficult to add Lachie Whitfield to my own submitted AA team this season. I just thought he’d missed too many games, but that does not mean I didn’t think he was incredibly valuable to the Giants when he did play.
His hard run and relentless harassing created multiple opportunities for his teammates today and simply put, there was absolutely nobody that could go with him.
It almost deserves a section of its own, but his gut run down the wing to receive an amazing over-the-head handball from Jacob Hopper was incredible. As others all but conceded the ball was going out of bounds, Whitfield kept those legs pumping, managed to keep the ball in play and got a kick away to the goal square. It was there a tackle from Toby Greene knocked the ball free and Harry Himmelberg converted from the goal square.
Whitfield finished with 30 touches to lead the Giants with Hopper, and laid six tackles, but it was his 698 metres gained that was the key stat for him. Many consider that stat overrated, and I agree that it can be at times, but when it involves Whitfield, you know that he is gaining metres and breaking the hearts of opponents at the same time.
He has had bigger statistical games, but I am not sure he has had this sort of impact in a final to this point. It could end up being a springboard for Whitfield, whose star has risen enough as it is already.
THE OLD HEADS DOWN BACK
There has been a few times this season where I’ve watched Heath Shaw play footy and I’ve wondered how long he had left. He’s made some big errors at times and become a bit of a hacker off half back at times, with a lot of his former responsibilities as the designated kicker now falling to Zac Williams.
But he turned the clock back today, and he did it with one of the best captains in the game by his side.
Shaw and Davis put on a defensive clinic down back, with Davis able to alternate between Aaron Naughton and Josh Schache, whilst Shaw took responsibility for Bailey Dale and Sam Lloyd at times. It was a comprehensive victory to the Giants defenders.
Shaw had his standard 25 touches at 80% efficiency as he ran off his opponents to create havoc along the wings. Davis was resolute, as if you’d expect anything less. He killed nine contests as he refused to allow any Dogs forwards the opportunity to fly at the footy unaccompanied.
The form of these two not only worked for them, but allowed Nick Haynes to slot back in seamlessly as he returned from a throat injury courtesy of Bontempelli in Round 23, and Zac Williams to run around and collect loose balls.
Davis had a blinder in the elimination final last season as well, pulverising Buddy Franklin in one of the most comprehensive beatings of Franklin’s career. Though the opposition today wasn't quite up to Franklin’s level, it does not detract from the quality of Davis’ game. He is a leader, and a bloody great player!
THE EMOTIONAL SCENES
I’m sure this story will have grown legs by the time I pull my finger out and finish this review, but the way Brett Deledio left the ground after this thumping win was both sad yet strangely beautiful.
Was he injured? Did he have a conversation with Leon Cameron prior to the game and make a decision pertaining to his career? Was it a spur of the moment choice to finish up?
At the time I didn’t really know, but I was leaning toward the sort of injury that may not be hugely significant to most, but significant enough to a bloke at the tail end of his career to signal that it’s all over. Turns out that was correct, and this was the last time we’ll see ‘Lids on an AFL field.
The genuine care and compassion from the Giants around him was all class.
Deledio broke down in tears after the final siren and was chaired off by the his teammates. He didn’t seem to be moving too poorly, but he’d hurt himself in the second quarter and played the game out. that’s tough… you’d know what was coming. You’d know you’re done and couldn’t even finish this game at the level you want to. You can understand why he would be so emotional.
Thanks Lids… hope the boys can do you proud for the remainder of the finals series.
THE GREENE MACHINE
Oh I love to watch Toby Greene play. He pushes buttons, yanks chains, ruffles feathers and if he ever had the misfortunate to be stuck in a lift with three or four opposition players, he’d be the one to fart and smile.
His football persona is one of an absolute ass… and I love it.
Players who talk the talk and back it up by walking the walk are rare. You have others that pose and posture… Jake Stringer leaps to mind, but where was Stringer when the finals rolled around? Where was the big performance to back up the bravado? It was nowhere to be seen.
You cannot say the same for Toby Greene. He stepped up in this game and made a big statement, finishing with 20 touches and three goals in a fantastic display of a medium forward playing tall. We’ll get to his treatment by the umpires in a little bit, but Greene is a difference maker in this league, and the fact is there just are not that many of them – not true game changers.
His ability to get under the skin of opponents, do the little things that annoy the hell out of them, and then turn around and hit them where it hurts most - the scoreboard, must make him infuriating to play against.
But it also makes him a joy to watch. He is easily in The Mongrel’s top ten players in the league, and I hope he blows September wide open with a big game against the Lions next week, Toby Greene was born to make at least one September his. This September might be the one.
A TOUCH OF ARROGANCE
This might just be a personal thing, but I love a player with a bit of Mongrel in them, and I love a player with a bit of swagger, and Jeremy Finlayson had both today.
After slicing through the contest at a forward 50 stoppage in the second quarter, he let the Bulldog fans in attendance know all about it as he slotted a goal from the goal square. He had cause to be excited; his work in bustling Tim English out of the way, taking possession and keeping the ball alive as it bobbled around before slotting the goal was the sort of play you see from the top teams in the game.
Finlayson repeated the dose in the third quarter to break the game open as Brent Daniels went to ground unexpectedly. The ball spilt to Finlayson, who bounced through a checkside kick from 40 out on the run. As the ball bounced through, Finlayson eyeballed the Bulldog fans in attendance and held a finger up to his lips. He knew what that goal meant. He knew that he had just swung the momentum his team’s way, and he wanted to let them all know about it.
In the final moments of the game, Finlayson wasn't about to relent. With 20 seconds left in the game, the ball rebounded inside the Bulldogs’ attacking 50. Taylor Duryea made a bee line for it and Finlayson refused to abandon the team ethos, crashing into Duryea to cause the ball to spill free. It was something so small, and seemingly insignificance, but it spoke volumes to me about the dedication of this GWS unit today.
They embraced the hunt, celebrated the kill, and went back for more even when they didn’t have to.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the team so many have feared for years, and they flexed their muscles at the expense of the Western Bulldogs this afternoon. It must have felt so satisfying.
SAM LLOYD AND BAILEY DALE
You know what the Dogs needed tonight? A goal kicker to stand up.
I’m not going to single out Aaron Naughton or Josh Schache here – they’re babies in terms of their AFL lives, but Sam Lloyd was brought into this club to provide a reliable option up forward. He held up his end of the bargain for most of the season, leading the team in goals…
… but he fell over in a big way today.
At times this season he has been a little hungry, but kicking snags was what he was brought to the club for. Today, he kicked one, but it was late in the picture, and the result had already been well and truly decided.
The other big bag kicker in recent weeks, Bailey Dale had one of those days… one of those days when you get your ass kicked by the opposition. He was not aided at all by the underperforming Dogs midfield, but he found it incredibly difficult to find his way into the game.
Together they added very little, and in finals, you cannot carry passengers. Sadly, that’s what these two were today.
SOFT FREE KICKS IN FRONT OF GOAL
There were a few today, and really I thought that a couple of free kicks close to goal kept the Bulldogs in the hunt, but one in particular caused me to have to apologise to others in my house when I swore aloud (I was wearing headphones and usually I am pretty quiet when watching the footy).
Phil Davis was pinged for making… contact, I suppose, with Aaron Naughton about 30 metres out from goal with the play about 40 metres away from them. It was what I’d term incidental contact, and Naughton bounded to his feet quickly to ensure he was ready should the ball come his way.
He did not need to worry, because the umpire came running in like his ass was on fire, and awarded a free kick to Naughton.
I like Naughton, as you’ll read below. He is a warrior who plays beyond his years, and he doesn’t need charity. I like Phil Davis too, as you read above, and a key defender needs to be allowed to make minimal contact with his opponent as they prepare for the ball to come their way. I’m not talking about dragging him to the ground, or hitting him with a hip and shoulder – Davis was well within his rights to search for the body of Naughton before the ball came their way.
But the umpire thought his feather touch warranted a free kick. I think Davis summed it up best.
“Just because he fell over doesn’t mean it was a free kick.”
He’s right you know. Just because there is contact doesn’t mean it’s a free kick. Just because a player loses his footing doesn’t mean it’s a free kick. And just because you have a whistle doesn’t mean you have to blow it every single fucking time two players come together.
Let the boys play!
THE TOBY GREENE RULES
I’m getting a bit sick of this. There are two players on the Giants team that get terrible treatment from umpires.
One is Shane Mumford as he bumbles and stumbles his way from potential injury to potential injury, using his bulk to hurt opponents… it’s what I like about him.
The other is Toby Greene, who must be sleeping with every umpire’s wife or something, because he gets pinged for free kicks no other player is penalised for. You all know I am a Toby Greene fan, and as such I might be a bit biased, but if you can explain to me how he can be kicked in the balls at a ruck contest and have the free kick awarded against him, I’d love to know.
If you can tell me how he can take possession, be piled on immediately and get pinged for holding the ball, I’d love to know that also.
The AFL seems to have two sets of rules – one for every player in the league bar one. And one for Toby Greene. He had six free kicks paid against him in this game, and I reckon three of them were genuinely there. The other three were paid because he’s Toby Greene.
The word ‘superstar’ is bandied around quite a bit in this competition, and it is often associated with players not yet at that level. Toby Greene is on the verge of becoming a superstar in this game – a very unpopular superstar… perhaps even an anti-hero of sorts.
It’s about time he started to get the same treatment other players of his calibre get.
THE NAUGHTON INJURY
This may sound a bit callous, but there are injuries I care about, and some that… well, it’s not that I don’t care. Maybe I just care a little less.
That said, when Aaron Naughton went down clutching his knee in what looked to be a nasty hyper-extension, I held my breath. I’ve since started breathing, so don’t panic, but in terms of the Dogs, this kid is as big a part of the future as any on the team. I know Bont just won the Coaches MVP award, and I know Jack Macrae is as consistently good as any midfielder in the game, but a forward the likes of Naughton, who is still in his teens… he could be anything.
And the thought of him missing all next year was a sobering one indeed.
As I write this it has become apparent that the injury is a lateral ligament, which is about the best news you could hear. Anything that does not involve the letters A-C-L is fine with me. Naughton has bucket-like hands, and the more time he gets on-field, the better he’ll be.
A year out of the game at this stage would have been a disaster not only or him, but for the Dogs. They’d found their key forward – I just want him ready for Round One, 2020. He now can head home, get himself right and emerge bigger and stronger next season.
Guys, I’ve written about this multiple times – I absolutely hate this rule. I don’t like seeing people concussed and slammed into the turf head first, but when umpires start speculating as to whether a tackle is dangerous and paying it in case it is… it really pisses me off.
We saw two of them paid today; one against Bontempelli when he tackled Deledio, and one against Mumford when he tackled Jack Macrae. Neither were dangerous, and given they were one for each team, I suppose they cancel each other out.
But you know what else would have cancelled them out? Not paying them at all.
In the case of the Mumford tackle, I reckon that was paid simply because it was Mumford, and like Naitanui, he was penalised for being bigger and stronger than his opponent.
This is finals footy, and there needs to be a lot less guesswork around free kicks. But I guess it’s that way every year, and they’re still guessing.
Anyway, please don’t paint me as someone advocating for vicious tackles. It’s not the case. I just don’t want the non-vicious ones treated as though they are. Eventually we’ll get to a point where what now constitutes a good tackle is tomorrow’s illegal contact. And I would hate that more than anything.
The early kicking down the line from GWS sure made them look as though they were off early in the piece. I believe it was four out on the full free kicks against them in the first quarter, with three of them on the outer wing, carried over the by the wind.
He tackling of the entire Giants team was so impressive early on, and really had the Dogs searching for a way to relieve the pressure. They went backward, sideways, and when they went long, they were under pressure and turned it over. Just that little extra chase or lunge really worked for the Giants all day today.
Lachie Whitfield’s set shot goal from the boundary in the first quarter, with the wind howling, is as good a set shot as you’ll see. That boy has skill.
Not a bad finals debut for Bailey Smith in this one. He settled relatively quickly and was one of the Dogs’ best in the first half. Fell away in the second half, but he had plenty of mates.
The Dogs’ bottom six players really let them down this week, but if I said to you earlier in the year that there’ll be a game where Will Hayes, Josh Schache, Bailey Dale, Rhylee West and Lewis Young would be among the worst Dogs on the ground, would it have surprised you? It wouldn’t have surprised me. You cannot have passengers in finals, and I am sure these blokes, at the stage of their careers they’re at, would be fine against a lower ranked team. This, however, is where the light competition ends. This is the AFL finals.
Love the game of Tim Taranto. Often overlooked (just like Hopper… there seems to be something about GWS mids), he is such a complete package. He had 28 touches at 82% efficiency, ten score involvements, seven clearances, 11 inside 50s and five tackles… and the five tackles would be considered pretty low for him.
For a while it looked like it might have been one of those games where Jeremy Cameron had a heap of the footy and no goals, but he ended up hitting the scoreboard for a couple. It was really interesting to see Leon Cameron throw Cameron behind the ball – I wonder how many touches he’d accumulate if he was allowed to play the “Richo” role on the wing as some stage of his career? He’s already topped 30 this season… the sky is the limit.
On Cameron, I thought Zayne Cordy started really well on him, but the tables turned about half way through the second quarter.
Really interesting to see Josh Kelly bounce back in the second half after a mediocre first couple of quarters. Three second-half goals is no easy feat, and his shot from the boundary in the third quarter was perfect – almost the equal of Whitfield’s earlier effort.
Soooo, it’s off to the Gabba next week for the Giants, and off to holiday for the Dogs. Am I the only one that can see the Giants getting over the top of the Lions? It has the potential to be one of the games of the season, and I am not betting against GWS at all. They have the tools to really test Brisbane.
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